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HAITI BLOG: Richard Alleyne

2010-01-17

Aid Arriving for Haiti: Water and Sanitation A Priority

January 18, 2010 -
Relief efforts continued four days after a devastating earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti resulting in wide-spread destruction and unimaginable loss of life.

Urgent relief supplies are making their way onto the island, however damage sustained at Port-au-Prince’s primary port, and congestion at its airport have forced UNICEF and her partners to explore alternate routes to get desperately needed aid to quake victims. One way has been diverting flights into the Dominican Republic— Haiti’s neighbor to the east—and then trucking supplies across the border in convoys.

One such flight recently landed in the Dominican Republic’s capital city, Santo Domingo, carrying UNICEF relief supplies destined for Port-au-Prince. The specially chartered flight arrived from UNICEF’s Supply Division in Copenhagen on a British Airways jumbo jet. The UK carrier and UNICEF partner, OXFAM helped facilitate the delivery from Denmark and British Airways flight crew were on hand to assist in the offloading of supplies.

On board were tents and reinforced tarpaulin for the provision of temporary shelter, health and hygiene kits, including obstetric and surgical supplies, as well as GPS receivers to help mitigate the challenges in telecommunication and logistical coordination. As cluster lead for water and sanitation in Haiti, one of UNICEF’s priorities is the distribution of family water kits, water purification supplies and other supplies for household-level sanitation.

 

Relief supplies ready to be offloaded.

© U.S. Fund for UNICEF/2010

 

“Aside from simply delivering these essential supplies, we must also work to promote hygiene by providing soap and issuing messages in French and Creole on preventing and treating diarrhea, cholera and dysentery,” said Ainga Razafy, Emergency Operations officer from UNICEF who was on hand to assess and monitor the delivery of the supplies. “Our priority is to prevent a second wave of disaster and ensure against the outbreak of any life threatening, water-borne diseases.”

As has been widely reported in the media, coordinating logistics for the efficient distribution of aid have been going slower than UN officials would like. This is due in large part to the complete break down of what was already a crumbling infrastructure in a nation that ranked the poorest in the western hemisphere.

Donations to UNICEF Canada can be made online at www.unicef.ca or by calling 1-877-955-3111.

Field Report from UNICEF's Tamar Hahn

UNICEF's Tamar Hahn sent this report from Port-au-Prince last night. To support UNICEF's disaster relief efforts for children, please donate at www.unicef.ca.

Port-au-Prince, 17 January 2010 - This morning I went to visit a field hospital set up at the MINUSTAH Logistical Base. The hospital consists of two giant tents filled to the brim with Haitians wounded during the earthquake. Conditions are deplorable: little food and water for both doctors and patients, no sanitation, and no morgue.

An operating room was set up today and it is doing mainly amputations as the crash wounds suffered by many of the victims here have become infected and life threatening. There is no capacity to perform any other surgery and all supplies are limited.

Amidst the cacophony of whimpers and cries of pain five children lie in their cots alone, with no relative to feed them, clean them or hold their hand. A two year old girl with cerebral palsy arrived here after the earthquake dehydrated and in shock, she lies in a cot crying and alone. She has no major wounds and is ready to go home but nobody knows her name, a piece of paper at her feet says Baby Girl, or where to begin looking for her family.

 

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0017/Roger LeMoyne
On 17 January, an unaccompanied child with a broken pelvis lies on a hospital bed in a room full of patients wounded during the earthquake, in a field hospital set up near the main airport in Port-au-Prince. Beside her, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Nadine Perrault confers with hospital staff.

The same is true for Sean, a seven-year-old boy who came in and screamed for his parents crouched in a fetal position for 12 hours. From what little he has said since the nurses summarized that he saw them both dead. Sean has minor scratches and walks around talking to other patients but the doctors are reluctant to discharge him without knowing where he will go and who will care for him.

There are potentially hundreds or even thousands children in the same situation in Port-au-Prince, either in hospitals or roaming the streets with no access to water, food and protection from violence and abuse. Even if these children have not been physically wounded they have suffered major psychological trauma which will scar them for life. They are at risk of malnutrition and disease and vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking.

UNICEF is identifying and outfitting two shelters which will house 200 children like Sean and Baby Girl. The shelters will provide a safe heaven for the children and begin to address some of their most pressing needs while their families are being traced. For those who cannot be reunited with their families, alternative solutions will have to be found.

Water and Sanitation

During the afternoon I went out with our Water and Sanitation officer to evaluate the water distribution efforts which began yesterday. Haitians no longer sleep in their homes. Even those whose houses were spared by the earthquake have taken to the streets and erected tents using whatever piece of cloth they have available. They crowd the few squares in the city and even the prime minister’s house, a gated property with a big front yard which has now become an impromptu camp.

Those who are not in the squares and yards block the streets with slabs of concrete and sleep right on the pavement.

There are no latrines and I saw women kneeling in front of water pales, naked in the street, to wash themselves. With no latrines available people take care of their bodily needs on the sidewalk. Mounds of garbage are accumulating everywhere and when night descends on Port of Prince all of these thousands of people crowded one on top of the other are in complete darkness.

When we came to the prime minister’s residence a collapsible water tank was providing 5,000 liters of water, which cover the daily needs of 1,000 people. The line was orderly and people were patiently waiting their turn, jerry cans in hand. Right behind them a long line had formed to collect the hygiene kits being distributed by USAID.

Four little girls came by to say hello. When I asked them how they were doing they smiled and said that things were all right. Then Stania, a 17-year-old girl overheard them. “All right? What do you mean all right?,” she said. “This is not all right, this is terrible and we can’t stay like this much longer.”

It was good to see that aid was beginning to reach people, despite the horrid conditions in which they were living. I returned to the base where UNICEF has set up operations following the destruction of its Haiti office only to learn that the son of one of the drivers had died from the injuries he suffered during the earthquake. It was the third child that this man, a Haitian national, had lost. His daughter and another son were instantly killed when their house collapsed.

The tragedy of the earthquake is not affecting just those outside the compound; it affects every single member of UNICEF’s staff on the ground. Several staff members have lost all of their belongings and have nothing but the clothes on their backs. Everyone is tired and traumatized, scared to be by themselves at home and edgy from the aftershocks which can still be felt daily. The education officer has been camped by the ruins of the MINUSTAH offices for five days, waiting for her husband to be dug out of the rubble. He is alive and has sent her text messages but he has not been rescued yet.

Donations to UNICEF Canada can be made online at www.unicef.ca or by calling 1-877-955-3111.
 

 

Field Report from UNICEF's Richard Alleyne

January 16 2010 - Our colleague Richard Alleyne is blogging from Haiti on UNICEF’s disaster relief efforts for children. 

Yesterday he was able to provide a post from Jimani in the Dominican Republic. The primary coordination of relief efforts are occurring from Jimani—the closest point to Port-au-Prince on Haiti's eastern border. Earlier today he shared some video from the ground.
 
 

 

 


January 15 2010 - Ordinarily, the tiny town of Jimani on the Dominican Republic’s southwest border with Haiti could be described as sleepy and nondescript. Safe for the military barracks and a few outdoor produce markets, day-to-day life seems to pass without much variation. This has all dramatically changed however in the days since a massive earthquake rocked Haiti, reducing its capital and surrounding communities to rubble.

 

 

Haitians seeking treatment and curious area residents congregate outside a hospital in the small border town of Jimani in the Dominican Republic.
© U.S. Fund for UNICEF/Alleyne/2010
Haitians seeking treatment and curious area residents congregate outside a hospital in the small border town of Jimani in the Dominican Republic.

 

With telecommunications spotty at best and flights into the capital city of Port-au-Prince still a logistical challenge, scores of UN agencies, relief groups and government ministries have descended upon Jimani transforming it into a hub of humanitarian activity.

While efforts to aid the three million Haitians affected by last Tuesday’s earthquake involve getting relief supplies in through any and all available ports and airstrips on Haiti’s western and northern coasts, the primary coordination of relief efforts are occurring from Jimani--the closest point to Port-au-Prince on Haiti’s eastern border.

Jimani’s proximity to Haiti’s capital, (just under an hour’s drive) makes dispatching relief teams to the crumbled city considerably easier, but it also makes for an attractive destination to Haitians desperately seeking medical attention for their injuries.

 

Survivors of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti being treated (or await treatment) at hospital in small border town of Jimani in the Dominican Republic.
© U.S. Fund for UNICEF/Alleyne/2010
Survivors of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti being treated (or await treatment) at hospital in small border town of Jimani in the Dominican Republic.

 

Jimani’s sole medical facility, originally equipped to serve the small community, has in recent days been inundated with Haitians suffering from crush injuries, exhaustion and severe trauma. The scenes of hastily bandaged limbs and blood-stained hospital sheets are grim and the number of injured streaming across the border is increasing. In response to what appears to be a brewing crisis, the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Health is scrambling to reassign doctors from neighboring districts to help meet the growing demand. There is also the very essential and basic issue of language. For the most part, the Haitians seeking treatment speak French or a French Creole and the medical personnel on the Dominican side of the border speak Spanish. Communication has been difficult but treatment is being provided.

 

Vehicles transporting relief supplies and injured Haitians pass through  guarded border crossing separating Haiti and the Dominican town of Jimani.
© U.S. Fund for UNICEF/Alleyne/2010
Vehicles transporting relief supplies and injured Haitians pass through guarded border crossing separating Haiti and the Dominican town of Jimani.

 

UNICEF also has teams operating out of Jimani through the UN cluster system and is continuing to bring in supplies from its regional hub in Panama. To date, UNICEF has delivered to the people of Haiti; oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets to combat the spread of deadly diarrhea disease; emergency health kits, kitchen kits, tarpaulins and tents to provide housing and jerry cans for the safe storage of drinking water. The children’s agency will continue to coordinate its efforts to ensure that there are adequate stores of essential medical supplies for treating the injured in Haiti so Haitian won’t have to travel to receive medical attention in the aftermath of such a catastrophe.

 

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.